Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Weather & geology, or a combination of the two

Fun times in various parts of the North Island at the moment:

Flooding in the Gisborne area isloating some towns - http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/2552153/Rising-rivers-threaten-East-Coast-residents

Heavy seas are eating the coastline in Hawkes Bay - http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/2550571/Running-out-of-road

and the weather and an earthquake swarm (I actually felt one of them while I was in Dannevirke over the weekend!) have conspired to cause the evacuation of the town of Waihi, and a Declaration of a State of Emergency in the area, as saturated ground and frequent shaking have raised the threat of a landslide to dangerous levels. Someone described the geology of the area as an upside-down bowl of porridge, give it a good shake and it collapses with a soggy blurp - http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/2550848/Waihi-landslide-fears-prompt-Lake-Taupo-no-go-zone

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Where did it come from?

I've been reading a fair number of blogs on swine flu lately, and I keep coming across claims in the comments that we should stop calling it swine flu because it has nothing to do with pigs.

What utter porkies!

Researchers from the UK, Hong Kong & and the US have reconstructed how and when this strain of the virus developed. By comparing the genome sequences of the pandemic strain with 100s of other strains from pigs, birds and humans that represent the full spectrum of influenza A viruses, the team was able to build a family tree of swine flu and date when it appeared.

And it quite definitely came to us via pigs - take a pig-shaped bowl, add a couple of dashes of avian flu, a dollop of human flu, and a splash of swine, and mix it all around for about 20 years, and then let it marinade for another 10 years before pouring it into a human-shaped vessel - ready for serving in January.

Yep, January, not April. This strain of swine flu made the leap to human hosts in January of this year - which means that it had quite busily circulating amongst the Mexican population like flu usually does for several months. And like flu usually does, it killed a number of people (NZ loses about 100 to seasonal flu every year). Those people were tested to see what they died of and the new strain of flu was revealed to be the culprit.

Tada! A new, apparently quite deadly, strain of flu erupts into the world view. Except that the numbers are a bit skewed as the first cases of swine flu to be confirmed are deaths. If nine out of the ten cases you've found are dead because of it, then it appears to be very deadly indeed, but when you test more and more people, and find that most people who've caught it just thought they had a bad cold and didn't bother going to a doctor, then the situation changes. I wouldn't be surprised to find that a quarter of Mexico had caught it and gotten over it already by the time it "emerged".

And now it's here, and running wild and free throughout the population. We've given up containing it in most places and we've stopped testing for it except in extreme cases, and keeping the Tamiflu for those extreme cases or people who are high risk because of other health issues. It's now effectively part of the seasonal flu collection - though interesting to note that the 18 other strains of influenza A doing the rounds this season are all Tamiflu-resistant.

Just because we've stopped testing for it and isolating people who might have it doesn't mean you can go back to going to work sick anymore - if you come down with the flu (any kind of flu) you should follow all the same procedures - stay home until you have been clear of symptoms for 24 hours, don't spread your germs around.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I have the flu, but what kind?

As coinicidence would have it, just as the World Health Organisation is finally deciding to declare that swine flu is a pandemic (despite the situation meeting their technical definition for several weeks now - it's a political thing...), I'm coming down with the flu.

Thursday night I started feeling feverish and kind of nauseous, and my lymph nodes at my jaw were swollen, so I texted the boss to say I wasn't coming in on Friday. Friday morning I wake up with a sore throat, my sinuses draining down the back of my throat, a headache, still feverish, and then my muscles start aching.

Since I'd spent much of Thursday dealing with pandemic planning, I rang Healthline (0800-611-116) to find out what the deal was. They decided that, since I hadn't been overseas in the past seven days, or in contact with a confirmed swine flu case, that it was probably just one of the usual seasonal flu varieties - slightly annoying since I was vaccinated this year - I guess I've just got one of the varieties not included in this year's vaccine, or the vaccine is preventing me from getting a much worse dose - what I've got is really quite mild.

But, without a swab taken and testing done, we have no idea what strain of flu I have - I'd actually really love to know.

Now I've got a question for the health professionals out there - I know you're reading.

How are you going to detect the first community accquired cases of swine flu in New Zealand, if you're only testing people who have been overseas recently, or who have been in contact with someone with swine flu?

The first person who catches it from holding the handrail on the escalator at the shopping mall, and then wiping their eye, a minute after someone with swine flu sneezed all over it, is going to be told that they have seasonal flu because they don't meet the criteria for testing.

I'll be wrapped up on the couch awaiting your answer, since, even though I probably don't have kune kune cooties, I still have a variety of influenza, and I'm going to keep it to myself - which is what everyone should do when they have something infectious!

Friday, June 5, 2009

You think swine flu is bad?

Those of us with two X chromosomes need not fear. Amongst females it presents merely as the common cold, but should you be of the male persuasion...beware the man flu! It's already a global pandemic.


*snigger* I've seen it before, it's not pretty. Pretty funny, but not pretty.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Being prepared - not just for disasters

It doesn't take a big disaster like an earthquake to give you a reason to use your survival kit, just a simple loss of power - due to a computer problem, no less.


Hundreds of Genesis customers lost power to their homes when the computer system that runs Genesis' pre-pay power plan broke down, leaving people with no way to top up their accounts on one of the coldest weekends so far this year.

The problems began on Saturday, when customers running low on credit tried to pay for their power in advance, but a computer fault meant they could not pay and the power went out for hundreds of customers over the next 24 hours. The payment system was fixed about 2pm yesterday, but Genesis could not say how many customers were still without power last night.

You need to have some way of cooking food that doesn't involve electricity - a gas burner, or a BBQ. Food that you can eat that doesn't require heating is also a great plan.

Warm clothing - layer up with wool jerseys - I found some really nice merino tops at SaveMart for about $5 each the other day.

Candles aren't the safest way to provide lighting, so a gas lantern, or the nifty battery-powered LED lanterns you can get these days are good for if you need to stay up during the evening. And of course, have a torch handy for moving around in the dark.

A battery-powered radio so you can keep up with what's happening in the world, and have something to listen to other than the kids complaining that they can't watch TV.

And of course, enough spare batteries to keep everything going.